Hurrah for Foley – Sean Foley that is – the artistic director of the Birmingham Rep, and creator, director and co-writer along with Al Murray and Matt Forde of this stunning theatrical adventure.
To think that just one hundred metres from where the world premiere of Spitting Image Live took place last night, the original TV series was born and ran for years, during the halcyon days when Birmingham was the TV powerhouse.
Foley has brought Spitting Image back – and with it, some ‘city of a thousand trades’ artistic pride.
Last night the REP played host to not only the press but also a star-studded gathering both on and off stage.
On stage Ian McKellan was our host for a royal variety show like no other. In attendance from ‘the firm’ were King Charles, Consort Camilla, Villa fan Wills, cool cat Kate, disgraced Uncle Andy and of course pushy Meghan and spare Harry blatantly flogging his book of the same name.
Outside of the monarchy there are world despots ‘Tangerine Trump,’ and evil midget Vladimir Putin with his chum – Chairman Xi Jinping of China.
We are of course talking not real folk but grotesque puppets, which just keep coming – over 130 of them.
The dialogue is outrageous, sometimes predictable – sometimes confusing, purposely cruel, peppered with the foulest language but very funny. It takes the show back to its roots with new order bravado.
There is a story linking together a catalogue of set pieces.
The second midget of the evening Tom Cruise is hired by King Charles to restore the tattered fabric of Britain’s society (represented by a festering moth eaten pair of underpants).
In a spoof of Mission Impossible crossed with Marvel’s Avengers Tiny Tom chooses Idris Elba, Angela Rayner, RuPaul, Greta Thunberg, Meghan Markle and Tyson Fury to take on the evil cabal of blustering Bojo, public school-kid Riki Sunak a demonic head spinning, vomiting Suella Braverman and Elon Musk as a transformer mechanically unfolding from a Tesla car.
Although the satire is mostly aimed at Tory politicians past and present, there are two hilarious running jokes; a boring billy-no-mates Sir Keir Starmer and the newly-resigned Crankies lookalike banshee from the Highlands, Nicola Sturgeon.
Alice Power’s set is extraordinary and works in harmony with endless fx spectacles – no wonder it has been previewing for two weeks before opening. It is full of every kind of trick from exploding boxes to a giant Tom Cruise face with x-ray eyes strong enough to hit the back row.
Puppet Master Scott Brooker is a genius, puppeteer team perfect and voice over artists/impressionists spot on.
My favourite part was the row of dancing penises ridden by red-coated fox hunters aka old money tory debs; here music, lyrics, props and actions merge to create the most wickedly funny shock and awe.
In truth some of the content is banal and misses the mark completely whilst other parts are ‘work in progress’’ It’s destined to be a moving feast and that’s exciting!
Foley’s show not only hit my funny bone but also made me proud that it has been produced and premiered in my birth town of Brum, I’m sure local MP Jess Philips who featured both on and off stage last night felt the same.
Live theatre is trailblazing here in our fair city – just need the TV companies to build some studios and play catch up.
Review by Euan Rose
Euan Rose Reviews